I love it when I can mix history, nature, and photography all in the same expedition.
Yesterday morning I went exploring in an area of San Diego County that I thought I knew well. Well, well, well…. Not so well it turns out.
I was cruising down Highway 94 when I saw a big tree off to the right. Now I’ve driven Highway 94 thousands of times in the past ten years and have never noticed this tree:
That is a Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla). According to that white plaque at the lower right, that tree was planted in 1874 and is the oldest of its kind in California and the second largest (the largest is in Balboa Park but is only 90 years old), having a 35′ girth, a 54′ height, and a 109′ canopy spread.
The house, the McRae/Albright Ranch House, was built in 1872 by Daniel and John McRae, is a California State Historic Site. It was the premier Victorian ranch house in the Spring Valley area at the time, and the McRae Ranch was the first commercial orange and lemon grove in the area.
The property was purchased in 1910 by acclaimed architect Harrison Albright. Albright designed the famous West Baden Springs Hotel in West Baden, Indiana, which, at the time of its construction, boasted the largest free-spanning dome in the world. After Albrights moved to California, he designed many now-historic buildings in San Diego, including the Balboa Park Organ Pavilion (the largest outdoor organ in the world), the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego, the Spreckels Theatre, the Spreckels Mansion, and the Coronado Library. All of these historic buildings will be featured in upcoming blog posts.
Here are a couple of pictures of the Ranch House and the typical tree roots of a Moreton Bay Fig:
The Moreton Bay Fig is a strangler fig, meaning that seeds sprout in the branches of the tree. Seedlings live as epiphytes while they send roots down to the ground. Those roots eventually will strangle the parent tree if left alone.
Albright was also an early proponent of reinforced concrete construction. His annex to the Homer Laughlin Building in downtown Los Angeles was that city’s first reinforced concrete building. In the following picture, you can see a rectangular pool under the tree. It is a reinforced concrete pool built by Albright.
The current owners, Ron and Janie Ogdon, bought the property in 2001, six weeks after their marriage. What a nice wedding present to themselves!
Location of the McRae/Albright Ranch House, 3754 Barbic Court, Spring Valley, California: